Time to play catch-up as consumers redesign their own healthcare solutions

By Andrea Simon

photo of a womanMy team has recently been conducting anthropological research for several healthcare clients. What we are seeing is a compilation of changes taking place that are completely redesigning how consumers are seeking healthcare and their satisfaction when receiving it. Increasingly, today’s healthcare users are designing the care delivery system to match their personal tastes and styles--colored by their frustrations with their current physician and the overall experience with his/her practice.

I’d like to share with you some of what we are noticing and the supporting research regarding the coming cultural impact of these changes.

The “Yelp-ification” of the patient experience. Today’s physicians must maneuver within tight time slots to see, diagnose and treat a patient. While they are trying to deliver the right care and record it on patients’ medical records, patients are experiencing a fast-paced session, no time to really speak with his/her doctor and often a lack of clarity as to what they should do to resolve their condition. These frustrated patients are seeking some type of solution.

As similar research conducted by Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide states, “Physicians are the experts in medicine, but patients are the experts in their own experiences. Communication is a two-way street and nowhere is this more important than during an office visit—this is the backbone of patient-centered care and shared decision-making.”

What happens after a fast-paced session is often less satisfactory than the patient desires. This leads, to the physicians’ chagrin, to the “Yelp-ification” of healthcare. Patients are going online and telling everyone what they thought of that doctor’s experience. Doctors are in denial, appalled and frustrated. Patients are just telling it like it is—at least for them. And in one physician’s case, that negative review was all about his poor access, bad parking and inconsiderate office staff.

Consumers are now relentlessly shopping online for care. Healthgrades is the new “go-to” place for millions of people who go searching every day for a medical service. Or WebMD or Patientslikeme.com. Why the dramatic rise in comparison shopping? People have large deductibles. They are paying huge out of pocket expenses. They want the best deal.

In our research, consumers kept telling us they do not have credible experience on their own making medical decisions except on the basis of cost with the hope of quality. Yet, they are perfectly fine trying. Doctors have become a commodity in the consumer’s mind. As one interviewee said: “Aren’t all doctors the same?” Followed by, “Don’t they all practice evidence-based medicine?”

More than half of millennials use retail clinics, urgent care centers or emergency rooms for nonemergency care, according to a survey by FairHealth, and they are more prone to do so than people in other age groups.

As one doctor, a millennial herself, said: “My generation is all about convenience and preventive health. We don’t want to see the doctor in person, which is one reason why we want to stay healthy.”

This same half of millennials in FairHealth’s survey stated that “their doctor would not recognize them if they crossed paths walking down the street.” With so few traditional PCP relationships, it’s no surprise that the number of retail clinics in the U.S. has soared in the past 10 years. For a generation accustomed to leveraging their purchasing power in the most expedient and hassle-free ways, millennials are driving the retail clinic proliferation.

Ron Rowes, M.D., chief medical officer of Prominence Health Plan, sums it up very well in a USA Today article: “They’re used to reaching out when they need something, getting instant gratification, moving on and only coming back when they have the need again.”

Ironically, many of the consumers we have been studying are not millennials (in their 30s) but baby boomers (in their 60s and up). This demographic is facing the current changes in healthcare delivery with very different emotions and frustrations than the younger group. Their doctors are too busy to see them for more than a few minutes. Getting answers to questions is difficult. Knowing what comes next is unclear. While they are “loyal” and have “relationships” with their PCP, they aren’t sure this is of much value to their health or their care when they need him/her.

It’s a perfect storm that must be addressed, not avoided.

This tipping point in healthcare service delivery is here, there and everywhere. What to do? We need to step back and solidly re-think these changes and how to best provide care for a complex, multi-generational population that is now going to be driving the solutions to their care rather than accepting what doctors, hospitals and insurance plans mandate for them. It’s an uphill climb but it must be done, and fast.

Andrea J. Simon, Ph.D., is a former marketing, branding and culture change senior vice president at Hurley Medical Center in Flint, Michigan. She also is president and CEO of Simon Associates Management Consultants.